Mollie Peoples said the Butte Central girls basketball team had two options after losing in the first round of the Class A State Tournament.
“It was tough, I think after last year (winning the state tournament) we loved that feeling,” she said. “We really wanted to go out there and do it again. But when we lost Thursday, it was a really hard hit and we had two options: we could have either backed down or we could put our shoes on, our jerseys on and fight.”
The Maroons battled back through the consolation bracket and earned a third-place trophy with a 60-41 victory over Corvallis Saturday night at the Butte Civic Center.
It was the third time this year the Maroons (19-7) defeated the Blue Devils (11-14) and, from the beginning, Butte Central had the upper hand.
Sophomore Tricia Joyce helped the Maroons open the game with a 12-0 run, with senior Emily St. John adding five points in the stretch. The streak ended when junior Olivia Bolton followed up St. John’s trey with her own 3-pointer.
It took the Blue Devils four minutes to sink their first field goal. Senior Penny Jessop was the first to penetrate the Maroons zone defense and scored a jumper. Fellow senior Emme Warnken added her own basket to get the Blue Devils’ momentum rolling.
With 49 seconds remaining in the frame, the Maroons had a 12-point lead. Corvallis got off two quick shots to cut the deficit to 17-9.
But in the second quarter, the Maroons continued to shoot lights out.
Despite Corvallis’ pressing man-to-man and trapping defense, Butte Central was unfazed. The Maroons built back a 10-point cushion as St. John and Peoples drove to the bucket. When junior Kloie Thatcher hit a jumper, Central took a 13-point lead.
The Maroons closed the second frame on a 6-0 run to take a 35-19 lead into the locker room.
Corvallis coach Andy Knapp said Butte Central was ready from the start.
“They came out prepared for what we were doing defensively and they shot the ball real well early,” he said. “They’re a talented team. Give them all the credit, they deserved this win. I’ve watched those three guards for long enough now, and you’ve got to give them credit for what they are.”
During the second half, the Blue Devils couldn’t chip away at the Maroons' lead. Even though St. John drew her fourth foul, Thatcher stepped up in the third quarter and dropped eight points. At the close of the third frame, Butte Central had a 23-point lead.
Corvallis began to knock back shots in the final quarter as the Maroons pulled their starters. With less than one minute remaining, the seniors from both sides exited.
The Blue Devils were led by Warnken with 14 points and one block. Corvallis was led on the boards by Jessop with 10 rebounds. The team shot 34 percent from the field and was 66 percent at the line.
Butte Central was eliminated from defending its state title after losing its first game of the tournament to Havre. But in its final game of the season, Butte Central shot 52 percent from the field, had 11 steals and was 69 percent at the line.
Leading the Maroons were St. John with 21 points and five rebounds, and Peoples with 12 points and four steals.
St. John said the Maroons had extra motivation after senior Corbyn Holm was injured in the Friday game against Laurel. Holm joined the team after the season began and the Maroons were short on post players.
“We really did want to win it for her,” St. John said. “She didn’t have to come out and she did it in the middle of the season. That was really important to her.”
Although the season is over, coach Meg Murphy said Maroons fans should be excited for next year. The Maroons will lose four seniors to graduation, but Murphy said several young players showed growth this season. She cited Bolton as one of the Maroons' most improved players and best defenders.
Murphy described this winter as a season full of valleys and peaks.
“Sometimes when we hit the low of the valley it was low,” she said. “But when we were at our best, I think we were one of the best teams in the state and can play with anybody. I know a lot of people that argue with me, but I still believe we were one of the better teams. … We got great kids coming back, and that’s exciting if you’re a Lady Maroons fan. We’ll be back.”